Somewhere in between “that’s the way it’s always been” and emotional overreaction is reason. While calls for Major League Baseball to implement an instant replay system in the wake of an umpiring error like we saw in Armando Galarraga’s perfect game bid last night might seem like overreaction, I believe it is time for the MLB brass and umpiring community to embrace instant replay.
Before this idea is immediately shot down by baseball traditionalists as a radical change from the way the game has always been played let us remember some other drastic changes over the game’s history after the jump.
Baseball was a segregated game until 1947 when Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers; it was another 20 years until the Boston Red Sox became an integrated team. I don’t think anyone would be foolish enough to say that the adoption of instant replay would be a bigger change from the status quo as the breaking of baseball’s color barrier. The change was drastic, the change made the game fairer, the change made the game better.
1969 brought about a big change to tweak the competitive balance between pitcher and batter: the lowering of the mound. Pitchers had become increasingly dominant and so baseball took action to boost offensive production. The change was drastic, the change made the game fairer, the change made the game better.
Major League Baseball implemented a limited instant replay system on August 28, 2008. In its current form, replay can only be used to determine the legitimacy of a home run or in cases of fan interference. The use of replay in either case can only be initiated by the crew chief umpire.
I propose expanding the instant replay system to cover all calls made in the field. MLB should consider a system in which each manager has the ability to challenge one call made on a ball in play. Limiting the instant replay system to one challenge per game would prevent any chance for the game to be slowed down because of instant replay and would keep the human element of umpiring intact.
The notable exception to my idea for instant replay is a call regarding balls and strikes. Certain stadiums are currently equipped with the QuesTec Umpire Information System, or UIS. This system provides some strike zone accountability without any change to game play. The UIS has analyzed thousands of games and has lead to more strike zone consistency.
Practically speaking, any play that would warrant an instant replay review is a play that would currently bring the manager out of the dugout to have a word, friendly or otherwise, with the umpire. As baseball fans know, those discussions come in a variety of forms and can be time consuming depending on the gusto of the manager or the need for the umpires to confer. Going to instant replay would take little to no more time and would ensure the proper call is made.
Who wins under the current system? Should baseball purists feel good about the lack of instant replay denying the 21st perfect game in MLB history? I should think not. How long can MLB and the umpires union resist instant replay in the name of the human element? The human element undoubtedly cost Jim Joyce a night of sleep.
Compared to some changes baseball has seen in the past, the expansion of instant replay would not be drastic. Such a system would have give Armando Galarraga what is fair: a place in the record books. In the end, the game would be better because important plays would be called correctly. The focus could go back on the game rather than the call and the umpire who made it. Isn’t that what it should be all about?